Oregon State heads south to take on California this Saturday night. Until the 4th quarter of last year's game, when the Bears ran off 18 unanswered points to come from behind to win going away, its been a pretty good deal for the Beavers, who haven't lost in Strawberry Canyon this century.
And though Oregon State is in danger of their worst season in 18 years, and their first winless conference campaign in that time, its suddenly not out of the realm of possibility that the Beavers could pull this one out, as California, after racing out to a 5-0 start to the season, is in the midst of another midseason slump, something that's become the Bears' trademark of DOOM, having now lost 4 in a row after Oregon ran over them for a 44-28 win last Saturday night at Autzen.
Talent still strongly favors California in this one, and they have another of those classic Pac-12 quarterbacks that have had field days against the Beavers in Jared Goff. But the Bears certainly haven't been Golden, and though they can clinch bowl eligibility with a win this week, they've come up short the last 7 times in a row when they could have done so.
To get an idea of why this has happened, and what Saturday night, and the future, might hold, we got with one of the many writers from California Golden Blogs, boomtho, to get an update and a scouting report.
And here's what CGB was interested in about OSU.
Thanks for taking time to talk Bear football with us.
BTD: The Bears have lost 4 in a row, and the main problems from a couple of years ago appear to be back. Jared Goff, after progressing to being touted as a top NFL pick, is back to having a terrible time with accuracy, completing less than 57% of his passes during the losing streak, and throwing nearly as many interceptions as touchdowns. And the defense that appeared capable of actually playing defense has broken down. Are there injuries or other factors that account for this, or did Cal just run into better opponents that burst their bubble?
CGB: I think it's absolutely a combination of both factors you mentioned.
First, I think we can safely say at this point that the 5-0 schedule was earned against the easier half of our schedule. It was by no means an SEC-style cupcake buffet - WSU is bowl eligible, SDSU is 6-3, and even UW and UT can get there. However, the record was definitely earned against teams with weaker defenses than the last four teams we've lost to. UW kind of exposed the blueprint, and other teams have run with it - the way to beat Cal's offense is to play with 2 high safeties, press the WR's, and make Goff beat you by slipping passes into tight windows. With that context, I'd actually disagree that Goff is "having a terrible time with accuracy" - he's being presented with a menu of shitty options, and he's actually doing decently will to make plays given that.
On defense, I think injuries are certainly a factor. I don't have a list in front of me, but many of our front 7 - DL's Wilson, Looney, Jalil and LB's Barton, Jefferson, Broussard - have been banged up. We've also played better offenses in the second half of the year - while USC, Oregon, and UCLA have underachieved, they're loaded with athletic playmakers at the skill positions.
Put it all together, and I think I'd argue that while Cal has played worse the last 4 games, the quality of opponents has also improved. There's no one factor that has led to the losing streak.
BTD: Coach Sonny Dykes as a result is right back on the hot seat. Has he made enough improvements to the system, and got enough in the pipeline, that this is just a blip (thanks to the Beavers, the Bears will probably still get to a bowl game, and get the practices and recruiting bump that comes with it)? Or is impending DOOOM just around the corner, and the last month amounts to fair warning?
CGB: We're Cal fans, so the answer is always DOOOM :)
Seriously, I think Dykes' job is safe. The AD came out last week in support of Dykes work on the academic front, in fact. The bigger question in my mind is whether Dykes has done enough to get an extension. You don't want him heading into a "lame duck" year for recruiting reasons, but I don't know that you can justify extending him on his on-the-field merits thus far. Vegas certainly believes that Cal will become bowl eligible after Saturday, instilling the Bears as ~17-20 point favorites.
Of course, if Cal loses the remaining 3 games (OSU, Stanford, ASU) and misses bowl eligibility for the second year in a row by losing a bunch of games in a row... things could get very dicey.
BTD: How will Cal approach this week's game? Oregon State hasn't lost in Berkeley since last century, and only once in 7 years before last year's 4th quarter collapse in Corvallis, and that's transcended some good and not so good teams on both sides. Will the Bears be satisfied to get a solid win, and into a bowl game? Or will they try to take out all the frustrations of all these losing streaks out on the Beavers in one night?
CGB: I can absolutely see the Bears trying to take out their frustrations this game, but I think it'll be more a reaction to the 4 game losing streak this year rather than our history vs OSU.
I don't think Cal will be "satisfied" simply to squeak into bowl eligibility with 6 games, given the 5-0 start. However, it will present a second straight year of meaningful improvement for Coach Dykes and the program, and maybe that's more important than meeting the inflated expectations that came with a 5-0 start and a Top 25 ranking.
BTD: More than a few around the college football world, including Jon Wilner in your own back yard, are of the opinion that coaches have figured out the "Bear Raid", and those that have the talent can slow it down. Do you think the "Bear Raid" is still the best option for California? Does it need some tweaks?
CGB: Because the Bear Raid is based on simplicity, repetition, and speed, I'd almost argue that "figuring out" the Bear Raid is meaningless. It's designed to get playmakers the ball in space and give them the chance to beat defenders 1:1. That formula clearly isn't working this year, but I believe it's because our WR's cannot create separation in tight coverage, we can't run the ball, and our OL can't hold up in pass protection even against 4 man rushes. That's a long way of saying I believe it's a talent problem, not a system problem.
I would definitely be on board for some tweaks, though I honestly don't know what they'd be. Cal experimented with an extra blocking TE (shades of the dreaded 'Furd) vs USC, and it didn't really do much. They've tried to sprinkle in more screens, and it hasn't really gone anywhere. Tempo has been a sore point for fans this year - for a number of reasons (Goff's at-the-line adjustments, desire to buy our defense some time) we have not pushed the tempo in any consistent manner. Maybe that's one change the coaches move towards this weekend.
BTD: Size up how you see Saturday night playing out? Will it be a bowl-eligible party, and if so, will the party start early in the evening, or maybe late?
CGB: I've probably been lulled into a false sense of security and am being set up for a big let down, but I think the Bears will pull this one out comfortably. I think we probably don't cover (20 points is a LOT given how our offense has been playing), but I feel like Cal should be firmly in control of this game by the third quarter.
Thanks, Boom, for updating us. Should be interesting, and maybe a little bit desperate, on both sides of the field, Saturday night.
Keep checking California Golden Blogs for breaking updates on the Bears right up to game time.